The Spiderwick Chronicles is a horror movie, make no mistake. Don't let phrases like "family-friendly," "fantasy-adventure," and "reading is good" fool you. They're all applicable here, but the best news about this colorful little flick is this: It's a monster-filled horror movie ... for kids! Yes, yes, very "family friendly" and all that cuddly jazz, which is great, but we're talking about a movie that can be described (very aptly) by the following log-line:
"Three young kids move in to a creepy old house, only to be repeatedly attacked by a massive gang of goblins, trolls, and ogres who desperately need a magical book so they can do horrible things on a very large scale."
Based on the series of popular books by Holly Black and Tony DeTerlizzi, The Spiderwick Chronicles is the sort of movie that gets into the head of a nine-year-old movie-watcher -- and turns that kid into a lifelong monster-lover. Not in all cases, obviously, but if I were twelve years old right now, this would be my new favorite movie. Safe and sweet beneath the surface, as any half-decent family flick would be, The Spiderwick Chronicles is also a creature feature that knows how to deliver the goods. It's fast-paced and funny, strangely warm and then suddenly creepy, disarmingly charming and admirably icky, all at the same time -- and even if you found yourself relatively unenthused by recent literary adaptations like Stardust and The Golden Compass (both underrated, if you ask me), if you're a grown-up horror fan, your internal child will have a very good time with what's offered here.
As mentioned earlier, the plot is an appreciably simple thing: Along with their mom, two young twins (Freddie Highmore as both!) and their older sister (Sarah Bolger) arrive at a creepy new home that used to belong to their Great Aunt Lucinda -- and the kids have barely settled in before they're knee-deep in magical books, otherworldly allies, and a teeming army of wonderfully nasty baddies. Things slow down once in a while so we can deal with subplots involving absentee dads and long-lost daughters, but for the most part The Spiderwick Chronicles is like a well-brewed mixture of Monster House, The Goonies, and (of course) Gremlins. The eclectic screenwriter combo (which includes great writers like Karey Kirkpatrick and John Sayles) strike a solid balance between "real-life" drama and high-end mayhem ... but the emphasis here is clearly on the fantastical stuff. And it's a fun ride indeed.
If you're simply a fan of quality filmmaking, regardless of whether or not hundreds of monsters are involved, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what's on the menu. Masterfully cut together by Michael Kahn, playfully scored by James Horner, and beautifully shot by the great Caleb Deschanel, this is a family flick with quite the laudable pedigree. The kids are both great, the grown-up support (mainly from Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, and Joan Plowright) is aces across the board, the story is simple-yet-novel, the special effects are really quite excellent, and the flick winds down (with, ok, perhaps five percent too much treacle) just when it ought to. And while the movie certainly possesses a "family flick safeness" to it, there's still a few bits that are unconventionally creative, amusing, dark, and/or simply creepy. So if you've got some young'ens that you'd like to convert into monster addicts, I'd call The Spiderwick Chronicles a great place to start. I saw it with my seven-year-old godson and his five-year-old brother, and they freakin' couldn't shut up about how awesome the goblins were. See? Future gorehounds!